Plot: Alice (Anne Shirley) didn’t think she’d be able to go to college, but her father was able to make it happen. He isn’t a rich man, but he gathered enough savings to pay for her tuition and mailed in her applications, so she is surprised to learn she is headed off to college. She is thrilled to attend Talbot University, as it was her dream school and she is excited to experience all that college has to offer. At her boardinghouse, she meets new friends Dotty (Barbara Read) and Merle (Adele Pearce), who are both certain that Alice will soon be off living on sorority row. Alice doesn’t agree, as she doesn’t feel she has the pedigree or family wealth to be invited, but when she meets big shot on campus Bill (James Ellison), her odds increase. While he vouches for Alice with a popular sorority, the leader of the house Neva (Doris Davenport) doesn’t like her. With time running down on the final invitations, will Alice or her friends make the final cut?
Entertainment Value: The dark side of sorority life is explored in Sorority House, as young Alice learns the bonds of sisterhood can come at a steep price. While tame by modern standards, the movie looks at the social realm of college through a dark lens and our likable lead has to endure it all. In this world, social status and wealth are what drive the campus, neither of which are traits Alice possesses. She struggles with putting on a show of sorts, though it wasn’t her idea to claim she came from rich roots. She also goes from being over the moon and optimistic about college to a dampened state, thanks to seeing how the social circles can work. Alice is our lead, but we also see how the system impacts others, through her two roommates. I found this to be a fun movie, certainly dated, but well performed and with memorable characters. This one has plenty of drama and angst, but also some light humor to ease the tension. As a fan of the “rise of the nerds” movies of the 80s, I was able to see some common themes here, though this is more dramatic than humorous.
The cast of Sorority House is a capable one, conveying the needed drama, but rarely veering into melodramatic tones. I love melodrama, but keeping things reeled in helps this remain serious in tone. Anne Shirley has the lead is a strong, capable performer who brings the innocence the role requires, but also a steadfast resolve. Even as her utopian vision of college is worn down, she remains focused and doesn’t fall to pieces when things take a bad turn. She carries the bulk of the movie and do so with ease, just a terrific performance here. Barbara Read, Adele Pearce, and the other women from the boardinghouse are solid as well, especially given the limited screen time involved. James Ellison is the potential love interest and gives us a genuine nice guy role, while Doris Davenport provides the villain. I do kind of wish we’d have had more confrontation between the two, but the narrative stays grounded and as I said, doesn’t descend into melodrama often. I had fun with Sorority House, even all these decades later it tells an interesting story populated by memorable characters, performed by a capable and talented cast. If you’re a fan of classic cinema or old school dramas, I think this one is well worth a look.